From the envelope a large, heavy card was produced, bearing the arms of the earl of Boskingram.
Jenny Marx To Louise Weydemeyer
Well, that makes all clear, doesn't it? Miss Prydd exclaimed cheerfully, to the frustration of Mrs. Winchell, who was still uninformed as to the letter's content. Makes what clear? My child, nothing has explained anything to me. But lphegenia was already halfway through the second note, a thin slip of paper, which had fallen from the envelope at the invitation's removal.
At its completion, she briskly folded the note back into the envelope and launched into her story. It seems that her sister Althea is to be married, and to the nephew of this Lady Boskingram, and I am invited, and to bear Mary company for a while She seems to regard the whole affair as very trying, although if Lady Boskingram is to be responsible for the wedding--surely that is a trifle unusual, ma'am?
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And do you mean to go, Genia? Winchell asked vaguely, trying to make some sense of this scattered narrative. Surely, Aunt Ellen, that's more your decision than mine.
I should dearly love to go, but can you spare me? My dearest child, if Lady Boskingram requires you, who am I to say her no?
Of course, I cannot make much provision for your travel or your clothing or such expenses as-- she began, as some of the negative aspects of her niece's absence began to dawn on her. Oh, no, ma'am. Miss Prydd interrupted before her aunt could begin what would doubtless be a very long and detailed list. Only see, Mary says that a chaise can be sent for me, and my gown as an attendant upon the wedding party will be the gift of the bride, as well it might be, for if it is to be something grand out of reckoning what use would it be for me, and what use would I have for it ever?
And I do have my own money, although I grant 'tis not much, but it should see me through a short visit, even if it is to London. So you see, I shall be no charge upon you at all.
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As I said, Genia, you may certainly go, although we shall be quite hard-pressed to do without you. Still, if you plan to be gone only a short time Indeed, Aunt, lphegenia agreed artlessly, if not with entire truth. In fact, Lady Bevan's note had suggested quite a long stay, as Lady Bevan herself was well into her first pregnancy and hoped her dearest school friend might be prevailed upon to stop some months with her, and to help with the tiring, trying, and somewhat frightening task of setting up the nursery.
When does Lady Bevan propose to send for you? Winchell asked, trying to calculate how many long-planned projects she might ask Genia to complete before her departure.
My Lord, child, does she think we have a household such as hers? Six days, and poor Samantha still confined to her room with the toothache, and half a dozen shirts still unfinished for Michael when the boys go off to school again next month, and I suppose that you will need the seamstress from the village to fashion a few gowns for you--and you needn't shake your head at me, for I will not countenance sending you off to London without even one new ensemble.
Well, really, it is rather inconsiderate of your Lady Bevan to ask it of me on such short notice, Mrs. Winchell continued, feeling somehow that relinquishing her niece to the dowager countess of Boskingram was easier than to a mere Lady Bevan. If you had rather I did not go Miss Prydd trailed off suggestively.
She had not misjudged her aunt, who, in a rapid calculation, had weighed the value of a niece in London by special invitation of Lady Boskingram against the convenience of having her stay in Dumsford to continue her usual duties. Iphegenia, please. It is a most marked attention, and I could never reconcile it with your dear mamma's memory were I to neglect to do all in my power to see that you accept this invitation!
Genia, wincing at this particular piece of bombast, reflected that her mamma, never partial to her eldest daughter, would in this situation have found some way for Cassandra or Persephone to go in her stead. From the time she had returned from her school at seventeen and been revealed, to her mother's critical eye, as no sort of beauty at all, lphegenia had made the best she could of seeing her younger sisters given every preference over herself.
Even when Cassie and Persephone had married, Mrs. Prydd had had little use for her oldest girl, treating her as an unpaid companion or, as she ungenerously referred to it, training the girl to the sort of life she was undoubtedly to lead. Iphegenia, on her mother's death two years earlier, had gone thankfully to her aunt's to take up residence there. Yes, my love, of course, Mrs. Genia, after a moment spent in rereading her note, begged her aunt's leave and removed to the nursery.
Upstairs, Rebah, the nursery maid, was trying to comb out Elizabeth's hair and at the same time to control a battle already in progress between Miss Annabelle and Master William Winchell. Although the children were all of such an age that a governess would have been a suitable addition to the household, it had been tacitly agreed, six months earlier at the departure of the last nanny--Miss Greengaugh, who had decamped in a flood of tears and with hysterical mutterings of snakes in the wardrobe drawers--that since Simon and Michael Winchell spent most of their year at school and William was to join them shortly, there was really no need for a nanny.
Genia and the amiable Rebah were left to themselves to control and instruct the younger Winchells. Lizzie, pray stop making that dreadful noise at once. I'm sure you are driving poor Samantha to distraction. And Willie, stop plaguing your sister; 'tis not in the least a chivalrous thing to do. With these pronouncements, Genia settled comfortably into a chair and ran a tentative finger again over the letter she held.
William who had lately discovered a book on King Arthur's court and was affecting, when he could recall to do so, the prowess and courtesy of the Round Table, flew to his own defense.
Belle, darling, whatever a Saracen is, I suggest that you cease to be one immediately. No-- she continued, as Annabelle would have started a counterattack. Give over, and I'll tell you something exciting. I'm to go to London to visit my old friend Mary, and to be in her sister's wedding. What will you wear? Annabelle asked next, and William, disgusted by this paltry conversation, sniffed Weddings! Rebah cooed appreciatively and reached with her iron grip for Annabelle, to begin again her offices with the hairbrush. I shall bring you something, certainly, Genia agreed. And Lady Boskingram--who is responsible for the wedding, and is a real countess!
Good heavens, darling, in May? Muslin or silk would be more like.
My Dear Jenny
But I shall be getting a few new things to go to town with, and yes, you may come and watch the fittings, if you are very quiet and do not bother Miss Bleakings--and do be a good girl and keep from stepping through my flounces! In self-defense, Miss Prydd was forced to stand and allow her cousin to vent her strong emotions at such an opportunity in a ferocious hug. When she had been proclaimed the best cousin in all the world, and had assured William that she would see the Tower in his stead and send him great descriptions of it, she made her way from the day nursery into the night nursery, to check upon the progress her cousin Samantha was making.
The child was asleep, however, so Genia left quietly for her own room, to form the small plans and dreams to which her good fortune naturally gave birth. The period extending from Genia's receipt of Lady Bevan's invitation to her departure from her aunt's house was fraught with the usual mishaps common to households with several small children, an absentminded master, and a mistress whose primary concern is her own comfort.
To the normal squabbles and crises were added the supernormal ones of the dressmaker's reign in the spare bedroom. Winchell informed her so--although she was not so obliging as to inform her niece as to how she should pay for them. Fortunately, Mr. Winchell, emerging from his study long enough to be told of lphegenia's impending departure, had first looked warily around the room to recall to himself which one she was, then murmured that it was quite right, and it must be time the girl made her come-out.
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And in the privacy of the library hall after tea, he presented her with a draft for one hundred pounds. Genia, too shocked to speak, kissed his cheek, listened dutifully while he instructed her to be a good girl while visiting her friends, and forgave his addressing her as if she had been a hopeful girl of eighteen rather than, as she herself admitted, a hopeless antidote of seven and twenty. The dressmaker had, of course, pronounced the whole project entirely impossible, and then, practically in the same breath, had endeavored to persuade Miss Prydd to purchase as well a riding dress and a spencer of striped jacquard.
Despite all dire predictions, and Annabelle Winchell's severe disgust at a wardrobe containing no velvets or satins to speak of, all was finished and neatly laid in bandboxes with tissue and pomander by Tuesday night.